Churchill’s Shadow Raiders
April 28, 2020
Churchill’s Shadow Raiders by Damien Lewis explores the Special Forces established by Prime Minister Winston Churchill in response to the airborne operations of the German military. The story shows how Churchill was one of the few people with enough insight to create a commando unit.
In February 1941 thirty-eight members, known as the X Troop, was sent on their first mission. Dubbed Operation Colossus, these men were sent into Southern Italy to destroy the aqueduct near Calitri. The original reports labeled this mission as a failure because the aqueduct was not fully destroyed and most of the Allied troops were captured. Yet, Lewis disagrees and explains in the book why the mission was actually successful. Lessons taken from the operation provided the British military with valuable operational and technical experience that helped shape future airborne operations, such as Operation Biting.
The author explained, “Operation Colossus was the first airborne operation by Special Forces. It has been called a disaster, but is actually a success. The reason it was called a disaster was the surveillance photos seemed to show the aqueduct intact. Unfortunately, once a mission is declared a disaster in official reports it is almost impossible to turn it around. I disagree because those involved were quite clear that they blew the aqueduct up. They actually put out of action the Italian ports that depended on the aqueduct and proved that airborne operations could succeed. The Italians were unable to get fresh water for two weeks.”
A second mission happened in February 1942. The airborne commandos were sent to raid the German coastal radar installation at Bruneval in northern France. Because of the German’s extensive coastal defenses, it was decided to do an airborne raid instead of a seaborne raid. Under the command of Major John Frost, they parachuted into France a few miles from the installation. The raid was completely successful since there were few casualties, and the radar was brought back to England. Basically, the German radar was neutralized after the English studied the parts.
“I wanted to show how Operation Biting’s goal was to steal radar right under the German noses. The equipment was stolen. The results were that the Germans now understood the British have the capability to go behind enemy lines. After Hitler was told he transferred anyone in charge of guarding it to the Eastern Front. It also enabled the British to “blind” some of the radar.”
Anyone who wants to learn more about the origins of the British Special Forces should read this book. It intertwines historical research and eyewitness testimony to tell the untold story of heroism, courage, and ingenuity.